Baltimore County Council members heard from a long string of East-side residents, business owners and labor leaders Tuesday who urged them to vote in favor of a $78 million assistance plan for Tradepoint Atlantic.
Council members are weighing whether to give the assistance to the company redeveloping an old steel mill in Sparrows Point to build roads, water lines and sewer pipes.
“Now is the time to embrace the largest economic development project in over a generation in Baltimore County,” said Edi Brooks, vice president of the Turner Station Conservation Team.
Courtney Speed, another resident of Turner Station, said the historically African-American community’s fortunes have risen and fallen with neighboring Sparrows Point — attracting residents when the steel mill boomed, working on revitalization after it shut down in 2012.
“We know what investment means in Sparrows Point. We’ve had it once before. It means jobs, growth and stability. And now we have a chance to bring that and so much more back,” Speed said.
Brooks, Speed and many others who testified wore stickers indicating they’re part of the “Revitalize Sparrows Point” coalition that Tradepoint Atlantic organized to help lobby for the project.
Tradepoint Atlantic executives have said they need help building out the infrastructure to attract tenants, including manufacturing companies, to the old steel mill site. The property operated as a mill for more than a century, and Tradepoint Atlantic is redeveloping it into a 5-square-mile industrial and logistics campus.
“This is about getting the right infrastructure in the right place at the right time,” said Aaron Tomarchio, a Tradepoint senior vice president. “This is not a speculative deal. This is proven.”
The county would reimburse Tradepoint up to $44 million for the water and sewer work, with the money coming from the same fund that pays for other water and sewer projects.
And the county also would provide Tradepoint up to $34 million for roadwork. The county expects to recoup some of that money from the state. The state usually makes payments to the county to soften the blow of a property tax credit given to projects in state-designated enterprise zones, such as the Chesapeake Enterprise Zone that includes Sparrows Point.
Tradepoint will also donate a parcel of land to the county, which will use it to eventually build a new fire station, police substation and fire training academy.
The $78 million agreement is significantly less that Tradepoint’s first proposal, a government-assisted financing package worth up to $150 million.
Under that proposal, known as tax-increment financing, a portion of Tradepoint’s property tax payments would be used to pay off government bonds that would have financed the infrastructure work.
Negotiations began more than a year ago with late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who died in May. Don Mohler, who succeeded Kamenetz, didn’t want to give up future tax revenues, so he negotiated the new agreement, which he sent to the council at the end of his term.
Current County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat from Dundalk elected in November, has expressed optimism about the deal but has not publicly endorsed it.
Will Anderson, the county’s director of economic development, said county officials have done “exhaustive” due diligence on the agreement.
“What we’ve struck here is a very solid deal for Baltimore County taxpayers,” he told council members.
Council members have balked at other corporate financial incentives in the past — namely a $43 million deal approved last year to jump-start the stalled Towson Row mixed-use development on York Road.
But no council members expressed any serious reservations about the deal during Tuesday’s hearing. A vote is scheduled for Monday.
Two council members suggested tweaking some of the terms of the deal before the vote.
Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, expressed interest in increasing the requirement for minority business participation in building the infrastructure, from a minimum of 15 percent to 20 percent.
And Councilman Izzy Patoka, a Pikesville Democrat, suggested including a requirement that the contractors hired to do the work must report on wages and benefits paid to workers.
Only a few people expressed concern about the Tradepoint agreement during a hearing that lasted more than two hours.
Mark Baskervill, a Harford County resident who leads the Baltimore County Campaign for Liberty, questioned the need for a deal to benefit Tradepoint.
“I’m all in favor of Tradepoint doing this development,” Baskervill said. “I’m very skeptical of the necessity or benefit of taxpayer assistance. And also the big question is: Why can’t Tradepoint pay their own way?”
A couple of other speakers suggested the community could negotiate more concessions from Tradepoint, specifically donating land for recreational sports fields.